Saturday, November 27, 2010

TAKE A BREAK. Smell some roses.

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Top Ten Unusual and Long English Words


TAKE A BREAK Oct 27: English, they say, is a 'crazy' language. Not only this most spoken and written language in the world refuses to follow a logical pattern in its pronunciation and spelling, it also has the tendency to plagiarise tens of thousands of words from different languages to fatten the English dictionary.

And that makes learning English a lot more fun. Here are the top ten unusually long and interesting words as compiled recently by online dictionary Merriam-Webster. Can you relate some of them to our local politicians?

1. Machiavellianism: the view that politics is amoral and that any means, however unscrupulous, can justifiably be used in achieving political power

In 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote Il Principe ("The Prince") to advise and impress the new Florentine ruler, Prince Lorenzo de' Medici. The book's instructions on obtaining and wielding power – e.g., "It is better to be feared than loved" – suggest the cynicism that gave its author a place in the language.

2. Hypervitaminosis: an abnormal state resulting from excessive intake of one or more vitamins

The word vitamin (in part from Latin vita, meaning "life") dates back only to 1912. The study of vitamins was still in its infancy when the word hypervitaminosis emerged in 1928. (Hyper means "excessive.").

Two vitamins commonly implicated in hypervitaminosis are A and D, both of which are stored in the body, rather than excreted.

3. Gedankenexperiment: an experiment carried out in thought only

Gedanken means "thoughts" in German. The term was popularized by Albert Einstein, who applied gedankenexperiment to his work conceptualizing the theory of relativity.

4. Triskaidekaphobia: fear of the number 13

Every Friday the 13th, lookups on triskaidekaphobia spike on

The word comes from the Greek word for thirteen and the New Latin word "phobia."

The origin of this fear is murky. Some trace it to ancient Hindu beliefs, others to Norse mythology, and still others to the Last Supper, after which Jesus was betrayed by one of the thirteen people present. Interestingly enough, known mention of the fear of thirteen in print dates back only to the late 1800s.

5. Hemidemisemiquaver: sixty-fourth note

In this appropriately musical-sounding word, hemi-, demi- and semi- all mean half. So how does halving something three times get you to a sixty-fourth note? Because you're halving the quaver, which is an eighth note. Divide that in half, in half again, and in half a third time and you get a sixty-fourth note.

6. Prestidigitation: sleight of hand

This word conjures something grand from a simple phrase. Prestidigitation ultimately comes from the Italian word presto, meaning "quick" or "quickly," and digitus, the Latin word for finger.

So at its root, prestidigitation basically means "quick fingers."

7. Plenipotentiary: invested with full power

Since the mid-17th century a plenipotentiary has been "a person and especially a diplomatic agent invested with full power to transact business". (In Latin, plenus means full; potent means powerful). The term is rarely used these days in regular communication, but it endures in the diplomatic corps, where the minister plenipotentiary ranks below ambassador.

8. Buckminsterfullerene: an extremely stable form of pure carbon whose structure consists of interconnected pentagons and hexagons suggestive of the geometry of a geodesic dome

Buckminsterfullerene, discovered in 1985, was named in honor of the engineer R. Buckminster Fuller. He developed the geodesic dome – which, like a molecule of buckminsterfullerene, resembles a soccer ball. A molecule of buckminsterfullerene is also called a buckyball.

9. Quattuordecillion: a number equal to 1 followed by 45 zeros (or 10 to the 45th power)

The -illion part is modeled on million; the quattuordec comes from the Latin word for fourteen. Why 14? Because there are 14 groups of three zeros after the number 1,000 in quattuordecillion.

Many denominations above one million have names that indicate the number of groups of three zeros after the number 1,000. Centillion, for instance, represents 100 groups of three zeros (303 zeros) after 1,000.

10. Tintinnabulation: the ringing or sounding of bells

This word's Latin source, tintinnabulum, means "bell" and evokes the sound of one.

The word was popularized in the mid 1800s by Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Bells: "Keeping time, time, time, / In a sort of Runic rhyme, / To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells / from the bells, bells, bells, bells, / Bells, bells, bells...."

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